AFC West Preview 2020
The AFC West is home to one of the most electrifying offenses, reigning Super Bowl champs Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs offense is almost impossible to stop, but their defense is vulnerable. The Denver Broncos have a young nucleus of offensive players waiting to take the next step, but their defense will be without All-Pro LB Von Miller. The Raiders move to Las Vegas and don't have huge strengths on any unit. QB Derek Carr will have to find some play makers, and the defense will have to get stops. The LA Chargers are a particularly polarizing team. They look like a playoff team on paper had a bad year last season. Will Tyrod Taylor help them contend? Here's your AFC West Preview.
Running Back: The Broncos are another team that has multiple backs who could reach 1000 rushing yards on the season. Phillip Lindsay has reached the mark in each of his first two seasons, after going undrafted from the University of Colorado. Free agent addition Melvin Gordon did it with the division rival Chargers in his only completely healthy season. He's still one of the leagues best backs, even if he didn't get paid like one. They also have Royce Freeman, who will look to become a threat in year 3 after a stellar career at Oregon.
Outside linebacker was also a strength until Miller went down.
Defense: This defense is still building. They have some pieces to work with but will most likely experience growing pains this season.
Offensive Line: The made a nice addition with Graham Glasgow from Detroit, who will make a good guard combo with 2nd year Dalton Risner. They have veteran Demar Dotson at one tackle spot, but the other tackle, Garrett Bolles has been inconsistent throughout his career. They need to get better so the offense can improve.
Lock only started 5 games last season, but threw for 1020 yards and 7 TDs in that span, pretty good for a rookie. The offense also seemed to click better when they made the switch, and they've added a couple good receivers from the college ranks. While it may take a while for those players to get up to speed, I expect Lock to pick up where he left off.
How do they find more pass rush?
This wasn't an issue before the Miller Injury, but now Chubb is their only formidable pass rusher. They don't have a lot of depth on defense right now, especially on the line, so I expect this to be an ongoing issue.
Final Record: 7-9
Kansas City Chiefs
Offense: KC is the juggernaut offense in the NFL. They have the league's premier quarterback (Patrick Mahomes), fastest receiver (Tyreek Hill), and one of top tight ends (Travis Kelce) and among others. You look at this offense and there doesn't appear to be a weak spot anywhere, even with some players sitting out during the pandemic.
Corners: The defense played well enough for the Chiefs to win the Super Bowl last year, but a large part of their winning ways was because of their offense. The secondary has been pointed out as a weak spot for a couple years, and they've tried to fix it. Their safeties have improved, but I have yet to see a substantial enough investment at corner.
I was going to go with Mecole Hardman (Tyreek Hill #2) here, but then Edwards-Helaire became the starting running back. Even if it's because of the pandemic, becoming the starter as a rookie is impressive. This guy had a great year with the national champion LSU Tigers last year and will look to bring that same energy to Kansas City. With a great offensive line and so many weapons on his team, Clyde Edwards-Helaire seems poised for a big year.
Biggest Question Mark
Will the defense remain decent enough to go with the explosive offense?
They made some improvements, like drafting Mississippi State's Willie Gay for the linebacker unit, but there's always a learning curve between college and the pros. They still have some weaknesses, which I pointed out earlier, but they just need to be near average with the offense they have.
Final Record: 13-3
Las Vegas Raiders
Offensive Line: They brought in Trent Brown last year and have a good veteran center in Rodney Hudson. Say what you want about Richie Incognito off the field, but he's good at what he does on the field. LT Kolton Miller is really the only major question mark, since it is still very early in his career.
Quarterback: Derek Carr has gotten a lot of flack in recent years, but he's still an extremely talented quarterback. Last year, he reached the 4000 yard passing mark with 21 TDs and just 8 interceptions. That was his best stat ratio since 2016, so he can still be a good NFL starter. Behind him onnthe depth chart are Marcus Mariota and Nathan Peterman. While neither has been overly impressive in the NFL, they both have substantial starting experience, which is what you'd like in a backup.
Defense: They made some additions to this side of the ball, but I'm still not impressed. Maybe some players come out of the woodwork to make this a better unit, but they don;t look great on paper. Teams should be able to take advantage on the perimeter. If Johnathan Hankins misses any times, opponents might be able to run all over them.
Wide Receiver: There's no one I'd be scared to defend in this group. Not an ideal situation if I'm Derek Carr. They need one of their young guys to step up and take over.
I loved Abram in college. He's a hard hitting safety that you just can't help but watch. While his rookie season was cut short, I think he's primed for a big year two. Given the current state of the defense, he'll get every opportunity to prove he was worthy of their high draft choice.
Biggest Question Mark
Will any receivers emerge as viable threats?
Trading Amari Cooper to Dallas left a void in the offense that they're slowly trying to crawl out of. Darren Waller broke out as a tight end in 2019, but they need more. Rookie Henry Ruggs might already be their best receiver. They signed veterans Zay Jones and Nelson Agholor, but both players have had up-and-down careers. To me, this spot is wide open, and there aren't many great options.
Final Record: 7-9
Los Angeles Chargers
Defensive Line: The Chargers quietly have one of the best defensive lines in the league. Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram are one of the best pass rushing duos around, and Linval Joseph will be an improvement in the middle. Jerry Tillery needs to show what he did in college to gain time, while some other younger guys will trynto carve out roles.
Corner: Chris Harris Jr, Casey Hayward, and Desmond King are all starter quality players. Any time a position group is that deep, it can be considered a strength. The only knock on these guys is that they may all be better suited as slot corners, but they've proven to be adequate on the outside at the least. All are upgraades over last year's #2, Michael Davis.
Linebacker: Uchenna Nwosu has shown promise and Kenneth Murray was a monster at Oklahoma last year, but this unit still lacks too much. Nick Vigil is not a starter level NFL linebacker, and middle linebacker Denzel Perryman isn't good enough in pass coverage. This unit is a work in progress.
Offensive Tackle: Bryan Bulaga is a solid offensive tackle, but everyone else is below average. Sam Tevi will probably start at the other tackle spot, but, even at his best, he is may be an average NFL tackle. The lack of experience and talent at this position is substantial enough for fans to worry.
Wide Receiver depth: Keenan Allen has been a beast his whole career, and Mike WIlliams is finally fulfilling his potential. Who will emerge as the third? What happens if someone gets injured? 7th round rookie K.J. Hill might be the best option. Far from ideal depth.
With Melvin Gordon heading to Denver, Austin Ekeler becomes the starting running back in LA. He had made a career as a complementary back, but finally surpassed Gordon in 2019. That leaves a competition for the team's backup job, likely between Justin Jackson and Joshua Kelley. While Jackson only ran for 200 yards as a rookie, he averaged 6.9 yards per carry behind a below average offensive line. I'd say he has a leg up on his competition and is primed for a bigger role in 2020.
Biggest Question Mark
Who makes the most starts at QB?
Tyrod Taylor is entrenched as their starter for now. We have no idea how long of a leash he has and what could cause the team to switch to heralded rookie Justin Herbert. The team seems to believe that Taylor can lead them to the playoffs, so we'll have to wait for it to play out.